About Sophie B. Hawkins
Sophie B. Hawkins burst onto the international music scene with her 1992 platinum-selling debut album, Tongues and Tails, which included the indelible hit song Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover, and earned her a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.
The last three decades have brought multiple awards, sold out concerts, appearances on film and television, performances with some of the best known names in the business, a documentary feature, a critically-lauded tour-de-force performance as Janis Joplin in the nationally-touring play Room 105, songs appearing in hit films and TV shows, and five more albums, including Whaler, which featured the record-breaking longest-running single in Billboard Adult Contemporary chart history, the Number One hit, As I Lay Me Down. Much more than just a singer, Sophie writes all of her own songs, is a multi-instrumentalist, and has been fully involved in every aspect of the production of her records herself, from background vocals and playing her own instruments, to engineering and production of her albums. She has proved an enduring artist with a fierce commitment to artistic integrity while both constantly evolving, and remaining steadfastly true to her own authentic history and experience which connects her to her fans at the very deepest levels.
“The passions, strength, and spiritual beauty that your music and performance possess is something I respect deeply, look up to, and after my 29-year long journey of survival in darkness, I am so grateful for your own courage, strength, and honesty which helps those of us who are battling our own ghosts and demons from the past.” - Shanda, Massachusetts, USA
I listen to your music whenever I feel I am alone because you make me feel like I am not. I listen to your music when I feel I need to be strong because you make me feel strong. – Jill, Michigan, USA
Sophie’s interest in music started as a four-year-old obsessed with drums. Her love of music and the need to connect with and through it came into her consciousness as early as second grade. “I really remember this moment so well,” Sophie reminisces. “I was living in New York, listening to Bob Dylan and I put on my father’s dark sunglasses and I started to cry underneath them. I said to myself, ‘I want to be that,’ and “that” was a song. I wanted to be a song. I didn't want to be Bob Dylan. I didn't want to be the voice or the instrument. I wanted to be the song, the need and the depth and the whole story of a song. It's strange that I would say that now because I still feel like I'm living life as stories.”
At fourteen, Sophie’s early desire to learn drums returned with great urgency. “I knew I had to play African drums – I found an African drum teacher and then from that moment on I practiced as much as I could every day and I never stopped. The thing is, I never even thought becoming a songwriter would be part of my journey.”
Sophie B. Hawkins has been tugging at heartstrings for decades with her powerful storytelling, crafting dizzying tunes that idle between the potently forlorn and the strangely comforting.
Born and raised in New York City, Sophie has always been an artist at heart. After attending Manhattan School of Music as a percussionist, Sophie left to pursue a professional music career. She started singing her own songs from her drum set in various bands, playing in legendary New York City venues like Kenny’s Castaways and CBGB.
She got her first professional gig playing percussion for Bryan Ferry. After that job ended, while working in the coat check at a popular Manhattan restaurant, she handed a cassette full of demos she had written to a patron who loved her speaking voice. That tape made it into the hands of a producer at JSM Music and it included what would be the hit single Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.
“I got to the point of being [Roxy Music’s] Bryan Ferry’s percussionist,” Sophie says, “which is a huge gig for a young female in New York City. But then at a certain point during rehearsals he said, ‘Look, you’ve done all these beautiful arrangements of vibraphone and marimba, but what I really need on the road is a Cuban percussion player – and you’re not that.’ So he fired me. Life said to me: ‘You can try as hard as you want but you’ll never be a Cuban percussionist. You’ll never be something you didn’t grow up as. But you are an artist, so be an artist.’ And then I wrote Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, so I consider that a milestone. And it wasn’t like I wrote it to make a hit, I wrote it from my heart. I’d written many songs before and I knew when I wrote Damn I had arrived where I needed to be. I knew it was big, I felt it. Years after that I got a record deal. I was a coat-check in Joe Allen’s Restaurant at 46th Street, and Mark Cohn walked in and said, ‘You have such a beautiful speaking voice I bet you’re a singer.’ And I said: ‘I’m a crappy singer, but I have about 1,000 songs. Do you want to hear any?’ And he took my demo tape and left it at a studio and somebody picked it up and the next thing you know, I had literally seven record companies fighting over me.”
Her first album, Tongues and Tails, full of primal, fiery pop, was an immediate international success, earning her a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist” and going gold in the United States and platinum in many European countries and in Asia. The Top 5 single, Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover has been featured in many TV shows and movies to date.
Sophie came up with the chords for this song in a happy accident when her hand slipped on the piano. "That was the mistake I was looking for," she says. "I almost shivered because I thought, now this is the big song you've been waiting for. There was this strange sense. It was like something big was coming. You've never been able to do it before and now you have to do it. It was like a baby coming out. Now that I've had a child, I can sense it was like the feeling that you may not be able to do it or that it may go badly - just an indescribable fear - but also knowing that you can't do anything to stop it."
“While Ms. Hawkins has her share of raptures on "Tongues and Tails," she confidently defies current protocol in both her lyrics and music. She is in her mid-20's, but her music looks back to handmade, pre-computer styles, especially gospel and soul music, even as it exploits layered voices and synthetic sounds. It's well within the bounds of rock, but it uses rhythmic crosscurrents and a conversational give-and-take that reflect an unusual background: African drumming. On ‘Tongues and Tails,’ Ms. Hawkins's music doesn't sound diagrammed on a digital grid; it ripples and surges and billows, unfurling spacious choruses or narrowing down to a conversational voice and a few instruments. Her singing sprawls on pillowy, airy keyboard tones, and her songs are sultry grooves, a mesh of wah-wahing funk guitars and a percussive pulse. Often, a single percussion instrument -- a bell, a hand drum, a chime -- is at the center of arrangements that are built on studio jamming rather than rhythm machines.” – New York Times
“She can write pop songs so gorgeous they melt in your mouth.” – Wilson & Alroy Record Reviews
Sophie followed the success of Tongues and Tails with her second album, Whaler, for which she first moved to Europe to promote, embarking on sold out tours and resulting in four smash European and Asian chart singles, before moving back to the U.S. to promote the album stateside. Whaler featured the international smash ballad, As I Lay Me Down, which won an ASCAP award and was the longest-running hit single on the Billboard charts in American music history at the time of its release spending 67 weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart, including six weeks at #1.
Sophie also performed the song on the hit television series Party of Five, and it was featured prominently on the show Dawson’s Creek and in the film Now and Then. The song was also included on the Columbia Records album, All Time Greatest Movie Songs.
Whaler also featured one of her most beloved international hits, Right Beside You, which spent time climbing the dance charts as a remixed single. In fact, Whaler had so many international hits, Sophie moved to Europe to promote it, and returned to the United States four years later to start promoting the album stateside. The album, as equally gutsy as Tongues and Tails, yet an atmospheric departure, sealed her rising reputation for musical breadth and lyrical depth. The album also featured the Billboard-charting hit Only Love.
“Unlike other current practitioners of over-the-top pop, such as Toni Childs and Tori Amos, Sophie B. Hawkins values rhythmic grooves that lend some discipline to fervid emotionalism. The result is Whaler, music at once extravagantly excessive and irresistibly catchy.” – Entertainment Weekly
Sophie’s third album, Timbre, in which she broke out into a more earthy, stripped-back sound that aimed at the core of her personal expression, was released in 1999. Timbre featured the hit single, Lose Your Way written on the banjo, an instrument Sophie fought hard to keep on the mix for Dawson’s Creek and pop radio. Her fight to keep her artistic vision intact caused a public outcry in favor of Sophie’s determination to let artists be artists. In a move toward artistic independence and integrity, Hawkins worked out an arrangement that would allow her to leave her record label while retaining the masters to Timbre. The album included the songs The One You Have Not Seen which was featured in the film 40 Days and 40 Nights and Walking in My Blue Jeans which was used by Calvin Klein to sell their new jeans. She re-released the album on her own newly born label, Trumpet Swan Productions, – then hit the road, on her own this time, just Sophie and her band touring the country in a station wagon.
“After three years of creative battles and fan support, Sony Music finally released Sophie B. Hawkins’s third album, Timbre, in the summer of 1999. Having worked with producers like Rick Chertoff (best known for his work with Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne) and Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox), Hawkins decided to take complete control of her third effort. The result is a strange palette: both dark and colorful, haunting and uplifting, Timbre is a middleground between the brilliant complexities and rawness of her debut, Tongues & Tails and the radio-friendly pop of Whaler. – Slant Magazine
“The album showcases a singer who has honed and gathered her various vocal styles -- somber folk singer, saucy pop gal, note-bending jazz chanteuse -- into a sleek, multifaceted whole. And let it be noted, without taking sides in the dispute that put Timbre on hold, that the banjo on "Lose Your Way" works just fine.” – Rolling Stone
“It’s emotionally bold…” – Entertainment Weekly
2004’s Wilderness saw Sophie diving into a jazzier style for what would become her most musically-layered and emotionally complex album yet, and the first recorded entirely in her Los Angeles home studio. Playfully exploring a collage of musical influences and her own multi-instrumental talents, Hawkins played guitar, cello, keyboard, drums and a variety of exotic percussion on a recording Rolling Stone magazine singled out for its “dreamy charm.”
“Hawkins made an interesting transition to indie artist, and on her latest she expands her already-broad horizons as a writer and performer. Wilderness makes a strong case for Sophie B. Hawkins’ evolving talents—major label or no.” – Paste Magazine
“Sophie B. Hawkins lightens up on ‘Wilderness’ with a sound and aura evocative of Laura Nyro and Nina Simone.” – Philadelphia Daily News
“Her best moments come when her fanciful pop orchestrations offer plenty of compensation, as on the evocative ‘Surfer Girl,’ or when her lyrics sound so effortlessly offhand they could pass for something composed by Paul Simon.” – Washington Post
“Sophie B. Hawkins can always be counted on to create music that plays against the prevailing cultural forces. Her new CD Wilderness is all love, light and playfulness - and it’s a pleasure listening to it.” – Chicago Free Press
“Delightfully unorthodox yet keenly melodic, Wilderness finds Hawkins once again making her own distinctive mark on the musical landscape.” – Barnes & Noble
The roiling energy and close intimacy of Hawkins’ live shows was captured in 2006’s Bad Kitty Board Mix, a two-disc set spotlighting her improvisational instincts. The album is literally a raw recording of a board mix, that she had no idea was being recorded. Sophie says she wanted this live album to be something different, “not just the songs you already know, but what they become in front of you, totally raw, exposed and new every night.”
The Crossing, released in 2012, is a searing, lush and startlingly naked chronicle of the most intense period of Hawkins’ life, in which she had come to terms with her father’s death, openly surrendered to the haunting specter of her past, discovered the exhilaration of motherhood, and arrived at a profound reckoning of acceptance. All of this emerges in songwriting and vocals that mixed the brashly playful and the unabashedly poignant in fresh ways for Hawkins.
“I was really reaching for somewhere new as I wrote these songs,” she explains. “It all started with getting a letter from my sister that my father was dying – and, in a way, that opened up not only struggle and emotion but all these opportunities for healing. I had to acknowledge that I’d never be able to heal the abyss created by my parents’ alcoholism. I had to say this is how it was, this is how it is with me now and surrender to the grace of that. These feelings have always been there in my writing but it’s like I always kind of danced around them in my songs and now I was ready to go head-on into them. The songs began to express a kind of eternal dream I’ve had, that I think we all have, for a moment of peace and clarity, for the ability to get beyond our personal struggles and move out into the larger world — knowing exactly where you stand in it.”
Hoping to sustain the stripped-bare honesty of how the songs were written, Hawkins created the album in a sonically hand-made way – recording entirely in her home studio and keeping the sparse, spontaneous immediacy of a demo-like sound. She engineered the album herself. “The album is entirely me with just drums, bass, guitar and flugel. I didn’t hire a band – I just would meet one musician at a time and have them come to the house to record and it was a very spacious and organic process. I became an engineer really by instinct. I kept things very simple and told the musicians to just have fun. It felt like it unfolded all on its own — I really wanted to retain the feel of these songs that were written completely in the moment and I think we did.
“No doubt about the quality of the song writing or about the interpretation of the songs, Hawkins remains an impressive, emotional performer. ‘The Crossing’ is an admirable portmanteau of variety and ambition. As well as all of the lead vocals, Hawkins plays piano, percussion, drums and strings on the album and is credited as the producer and engineer of all but one track.” – Everything Express
Currently, Sophie is working on releasing a new album, The Woman with the Sea Dog, and has released the first single and music video from that album, As I Lay Me Down Deux, a hypnotic re-imagining of her record-breaking number one song, As I Lay Me Down.
“Her wildly eclectic albums are full of intricately crafted and sometimes epic, sometimes disarming power pop that at times rivals Joni Mitchell’s best stuff for complexity and lyrical depth.” – Washington Blade
Collaborations & Film/TV
In addition to collaborating with Tony-award winning Broadway legends Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Promises, Promises), Sophie has performed with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Chris Isaak, Bryan Ferry, Melissa Etheridge, Paula Cole, Jewel, and Sting. Sophie’s music has been featured in major television shows and films such as Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five, Community, The Blacklist, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Mrs. Winterbourne, Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo, Now and Then, Mr. Wrong, Cold Case, City on a Hill, Saturday Night Live, Community, Bounce, and New Year’s Eve, among others. She has appeared on The Tonight Show, Top of the Pops, Lauren Hutton Show, Chris Isaak Show, Howard Stern Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Community, Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert, American Music Awards, and the Billboard Awards, among others.
In the same period as the release of The Crossing, Sophie displayed her versatility starring as Janis Joplin in the stage musical Room 105, receiving rave reviews and standing ovations from the likes of Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, and Rita Wilson, during its successful sold-out run.
“Bringing renewed verve to her [Joplin’s] legacy and spirit. The brilliant and heartfelt performance by Sophie B. Hawkins… Perhaps even more impressive was the sensitivity with which Hawkins embodied Joplin.” — Edge Magazine
Sophie B. Hawkins passionately channels Janis Joplin’s power, vulnerability, and insecurities with her astonishing voice. — Indie 103.1 Radio
Hawkins echoes the fire of Janis Joplin herself. — Aspen Times
I am not really sure where to begin with my praise for Sophie B. Hawkins after seeing her commanding performance as Janis Joplin. I will start by saying that Hawkins is not playing Janis Joplin – she IS Janis from the moment she literally crawls onto the stage and belts out her first number.—Broadway World
“Sophie B. Hawkins is remarkable as Janis Joplin in “ROOM 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin”. — Performing Arts Live
“For a whole year I learned and wrote out every single phrasing of Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Ma Rainey, Leadbelly — I learned what Janis learned,” Sophie said. “I figured there was no better way to get to Janis than through her influences. I started doing small bits of Janis in my own concerts. And my fans loved it. When we started rehearsing for the play, I’d say, ‘She’s coming in on the sixth eighth note, she’s not coming in on the damn beat,’ and the band would say: ‘You’re crazy; she just felt it. She didn’t even know what she was doing.’ And I said, ‘No; you guys are wrong about her. She knows everything she’s doing, and I can prove it to you.’ It was such an awesome period of my life, immersing myself into what Janis did. Before I got my record deal with Sony I pursued acting because I loved it so much. I studied acting with some really great coaches and classes, and probably went on 10 auditions a day. I did get some stage work, but nothing I was ever paid for, just Off-Off-Broadway. I stopped acting when I realized that if I focused on my music, I’d be able to be the artist I wanted to be. It didn’t mean I lost my love of acting. But I didn’t ever think about it because once I became the songwriter I really had to concentrate on that 1000%, and that’s what I did. The opportunity to play Janis has brought back all those desires — it’s like an addiction to theater. This is a role of a lifetime!”
Art: Sophie is an accomplished visual artist who has produced artwork and photography for each of her album releases. View some of Sophie’s paintings at www.sophiebhawkins.com/art.
Awards & Nominations:
Sophie was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 1992, took home six New York Music Awards in the early 90s, was honored with the Icon Award from Women in Film, and was honored for her environmental activism, among other awards and honors. She has earned platinum and gold record status for a number of her music releases in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia.
Sophie has lent her voice and in-person efforts to organizations working for the environment, animal rights, children’s issues, Get Out the Vote efforts, and LGBTQ equality, using her public platform from the beginning of her career to support her deep commitment to creating positive change in the world. Sophie saved multiple animals from Hurricane Katrina, personally transporting them to California and finding them homes, participated in a Turner Channel documentary about sea turtles, has protested environmental and animal abusers in person, and exposed cruelty to farm animals in her videos. During Hillary Clinton’s first run for President in 2008 while Sophie was pregnant with her first child, she campaigned extensively across the country, performing benefit concerts and re-writing the lyrics of Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover to Damn, I Wish You Were President and releasing a music video of that new composition during campaign season.
Among other organizations, she has supported the Waterkeeper Alliance, GLAAD, The Ms. Foundation for Women, The Trevor Project, Raise a Child Foundation, Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, God’s Love We Deliver, This Way Out, Gulf Shore Animal League, New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and others. Sophie performed a benefit concert and donated 100% of the proceeds from her song, The Land, the Sea, and the Sky to the Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect more than 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa and did hands-on work with them helping to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She surprised the United States Coast Guard by showing up on a boat in the Gulf to clean the oil off the water with a special material invented by Waterkeeper. She was almost arrested during this action, but filmed her experience and utilized some of the footage to amplify the ramifications of the environmental disaster for her music video for her song Sinnerman from her album The Crossing.
It's hard to think of great music or anything else these days with all the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every minute. Sadly, most musicians feel as helpless as I do in terms of how to help clean up the mess, but thankfully, Sophie B. Hawkins has figured it out. – US Weekly Magazine
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, Sophie completed a sold-out 2019 U.S. concert tour, appeared on the hit German television program Night Grooves, and has performed multiple sold out livestream concerts in Summer and Fall 2020.
“When my fans come to my show and hear my records, they want me to be completely who I am as an artist, which is someone always growing, changing, and reaching,” Sophie says. “So that’s what they’ll get at my show; I’m always reaching for something new.”
Today, Sophie is in the midst of producing her next album, and is simultaneously working on her next labor of love – an original semi-autobiographical combination of a play and musical which she appropriately dubs a playsical. Since the release of her last album, fans have been clamoring for new music from Sophie, so she is taking the production of her new releases directly to them via an upcoming crowd funding campaign.
In 2021, in order to finish production, song mastering, and new artwork to accompany the release of new songs, Sophie will be digging in to her nearly 30-year professional archive and offering supporters a mix of vintage and out-of-print items, reproductions of her original handwritten lyrics of her most beloved songs, personalized artwork, photos, and posters, backstage concert meet and greets, Skype experiences, exclusive video messages, and more, in lovingly curated packages. Be certain to sign up for Sophie’s email list at www.sophiebhawkins.com/subscribe and follow her on social media to keep up-to-date on the latest music, tours, news, and merchandise. Follow Sophie on her social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Keep up with her latest projects at sophiebhawkins.com.
Sophie’s crowning artistic achievement and the life accomplishment of which she is most proud is her two children. “Becoming a mother gave me an amazing new perspective on being an artist,” she muses. “There’s an immense amount of truth and honesty and presence that comes out in our relationship. It’s a constant reminder that the most beautiful thing you can ever do for another person is to fully, passionately, and fearlessly express yourself and what you believe in.”
Fans of Sophie’s art seem to agree with her:
I am a really big fan of yours since the release of your first album. I admire your work so much, I think you put your true feelings in everything you do and your voice moves me a lot. I am from Greece, and I write to you just to let you know that there are people who love you here, too. – Tatiana | Athens, Greece
Your music brings gladness in my heart and soul! Thank you... – Yulia | Ukraine
The wisdom, honesty, and genuine beauty of your music, your words, and your life have helped kick the bitter right out of my sweet so that I can truly say I'm just glad it happened instead of sad it's over. You once said that you took some giant leaps of faith and just hoped you would land on your feet, a phrase that now is painted over my mirror. – Amy | Memphis, TN
The passions, strength, and spiritual beauty that your music and performance possess is something I respect deeply, look up to, and after my 29 year long journey of survival in darkness, I am so grateful for your own courage, strength, and honesty which helps those of us who are battling our own ghosts and demons from the past. Thank you for your strength, help, and for sharing your beautiful talent with those of us who need sources of purity and beauty in our lives. – Shanda | Massachusetts
There is rhyme and reason to everything; and I believe that you are an excellent example of how artists and musicians ought to treat their craft, with sincerity, honour and purity. – Steffy T.| Ontario, Canada
It would be an emotional highlight to see you perform your sensual songs, because there are only a few artists that can express these feelings so deeply in their performance. – Jonny | Sweden
I was 18 years old in 1992 when "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" came out. The first time I heard it was on MTV, and it was like being hit by a truck. I was mesmerized by your lyrics, by the way you talked about having a lover in terms of being irrational and powerful, having no boundaries - be everything to your partner kind of interaction. I had always felt that way about love, but that wasn't what you heard in music being sung by anyone on the radio. You were the first person I ever heard publicly acknowledge same sex love. You did more for me than I could ever tell you. – Julianne D. | Brooklyn, NY
Hi, I recently, very recently, discovered your music, it hit me right in the center of my heart, I so wish I had known about you before, but then things come into your life for a reason, and your music came at the right time for me. – Brenda | Nova Scotia
The first song I heard of you was "As I Lay Me Down". I was driving through my hometown and I had to stop my car after 30 seconds because I was so deeply touched when I heard the song. – Richie | Stuttgart, Germany
I was in the front row just mesmerized by your performance. I am hearing impaired and I hope you remember me especially by my overwhelming tears. I hope you will never stop making music. – Jennifer | Philadelphia, PA
I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am to you for sharing your music and your life with your fans. When I got the chance to meet you at the 2001 North Halsted Street Market days in Chicago, I met a person who is as honest and real as her music is. – Bob | Chicago, IL
‘Timbre’ was so beautifully written and I felt a breathtaking difference ...love, happiness, freedom, whereas ‘Tongues’ reached into one's soul and refused to let go....ringing out in pain. Your music has traced my path in this world, and as I gained the things that I had always hoped for, your music seemed to follow...perfectly echoing my feelings and longings. – Kelly | Location Unknown
This was the first time I saw your live performance and I was mesmerized, to say you are incredibly talented is an understatement. More important than that, you have an essence of spirituality and kindness that would be obvious to anyone who has the chance to talk with you. I work with children & teenagers of all forms of abuse and with the older kids, I use much of your music as part of their healing process. – Mel | Cleveland, OH
Thank you for being true to yourself - for being so brave and not conforming to the musical industry’s ideals and demands. Your closest followers adore, love and respect you so much for who you are and the way you represent yourself musically. Your uniqueness and individuality has touched the very heart and soul of thousands. – Jayme | Chelan, WA
We all feel differently because of everything that happens. I listen to your music whenever I feel I am alone because you make me feel like I am not. I listen to your music when I feel I need to be strong because you make me feel strong. There has never been another artist as great as you in my eyes. – Jill | Grand Rapids, MI
I just wanted to write and tell you how much I love As I Lay Me Down. It will always be one of my all-time favorite songs. You released it at a very low time in my life but I have found (and continue to find) so much comfort in that song. – Yung | Phillipines